General Information

This text is a relatively short read that deals with animal vivisection and consequences/concerns surrounding animal experimentation, which was a particularly pressing topic around the turn of the 20th century and a deep concern for Wells. It also touches concerns about mapping and truth-telling in narrative, among other things.

Instructors’ Teaching Experience

I found the text to be pretty easy to teach (it’s rich), though there were some moments that were so action-based that my students had a hard time gripping anything that they felt was ‘meaningful.’ I found that the best way to get around these seemingly empty moments was to press on the fact that they felt so empty, and ask questions about action in narrative and the role it plays in the experience of the text. Caveat emptor here, because the story (like most island-based adventure-y things) sort of falls flat at the end, but it seemed to be a good text to use in my course when we were talking about the ways in which people have tried to understand the differences between humans and animals in novels, and in conjunction with Frankenstein and Slaughterhouse-Five.

Classroom Strategies

I’ve been particularly fond of using the book’s opening setting as a place to talk about truth-telling in fiction and the ways in which authors nest their stories to increase authenticity (really great with Frankenstein’s embedded narration, and Slaughterhouse-Five’s “this all happened, more or less”). So, the first thing that I did was pull up a Google map of the coordinates that are mentioned in the novel and had a conversation about what it means to set a book in a remote ocean this way. I also brought up pictures from Ambroise Pare’s On Monsters and Marvels to show some possibilities of human-animal hybrids in a quasi-medical context and the ways in which they were explained. It seemed helpful to also compare scenes from the film adaptations to the text; these were readily available on YouTube and only took a little time to curate. Know also that there was a film version from 1932 called Island of Lost Souls, in addition to the 1977 and 1996 versions.

Discussion Questions

  • What’s the role of truth-telling here? Why nest this story? Is Prendick reliable as a narrator (pretty basic, but there are some serious concerns here, and students seem to respond well)?
  • Also worthwhile: Are there any ethical concerns beyond vivisection in this novel? How does the novel paint the medical community at large? Why the distinctions between different kinds of animals and their natures (are there suggestions about human nature being made here? what kinds?)?
  • How does the Law work in this novel? Does there seem to be any particular argument about laws in general?